Cosmetic Surgery

Drug war spending


Public dissatisfaction with the war on drugs is mounting, putting federal warriors under increasing pressure to cut an enforcement and treatment budget that has ballooned from $65 million in 1969 to $19.2 billion in 2003. But rather than actually spend less, the administration hopes to rely on some Enron-style creative bookkeeping.

According to a new report from Common Sense for Drug Policy, planned revisions in the way the feds calculate the budget would make it appear that the administration has cut drug war spending to $11.4 billion. At the same time, the reporting changes will create the illusion that roughly equal amounts are being spent on enforcement and treatment, rather than the traditional 70-30 split.

For example, drug czar John Walters would like to exclude the $3 billion per year spent housing federal drug prisoners from the budget, claiming that it's not a primary cost of federal drug control policy. Changes in budgeting methodology also would allow the Defense Department to reduce its reported drug expenditures. That would be an impressive feat: According to the RAND Corporation, the department already omits the cost of personnel when figuring its drug control budget.

At the same time, the new reporting plan would inflate the amount of funding for treatment, giving the impression of a kinder, gentler drug control policy. For the first time, the Office of National Drug Control Policy will include money spent treating alcoholics, thus instantly upping the treatment tally by $500 million.